Rebuilding Georgetown: The University of Olivet Winter Service Trip Blog

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Following the college’s final exams on Dec. 5, a group of 33 Olivet students and two employees traveled to Georgetown, S. C., to help rebuild areas of the city affected by massive flooding. Senior Mitch Galloway, who participated in the winter service trip, shares the group’s experience.

Saturday, Dec. 5 – On the Road

John Denver’s “Country Roads” played softly in the foreground. Rolling hills to the right. Rolling hills to the left.

It was the first day of the service trip toward South Carolina, and West Virginia and Virginia were just showing off.

Blessed with a backdrop of black and brown rustic bridges, muddy rivers and Jack and Jill hills, the view in the ninth hour of the trip gave 30-plus students’ and advisors’ eyes an early Christmas present.

Three red Olivet vans carried us 15 hours away from campus, and we were anxious to get to our destination – to start getting our hands dirty.

I guess, in a way, Mr. Denver was right: we were finally home — sweet home (at least for a week). And we were needed to work — this time physically — near another hill not discovered by Father Shipherd.

Sunday, Dec. 6 — Work Day One

My group — consisting of six students and two team leaders — drove 45 minutes away from Georgetown, S. C. toward a dwelling in Hemingway, S. C. impacted from heavy flooding earlier this year.

Fighting off nails that didn’t want to come off, mold that wanted to stick to our hair and pale faces, and spiders the size of golf balls, our group managed to nearly complete gutting a severely damaged home, which meant removing the entire floor.

Student workers remarked on the conditions and the devastation accumulated. Eyes, again, made note of the scenery. There was devastation, yes, but also great beauty in the city: a plethora of churches, winding side roads and magnolia trees.

The work on sight was swift. The December temperatures were perfect in the low 60s, and the energy was like the nails’ aforementioned toughness — undeniable.

Monday, Dec. 7- Written by senior Jessica Doster

After a trying workday vacuuming mold beneath a “subfloor” (still don’t know what that means), panicking at the sight of a dead crawdad, and wearing cool headlamps that channeled my inner mole, a day off was much needed. We started the next morning on a high-note: killer bagels, positive attitudes, and cups of honey with a splash of coffee. The day consisted of exploring the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier, a battleship, and a submarine. We were given the option to hear and take hair tips from the one and only, the notorious, infamous Donald Trump, who was visiting nearby. Instead, myself and the rest of the group decided to gorge ourselves on mashed potatoes and fried okra at Ryan’s Steakhouse in Charleston.

Thursday, Dec. 10 – Written by Mike Fales, assistant professor, director of service learning and campus ministries

Ten years ago in September a group of students came to tell me they wanted to help the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I told them the only way I could find a way to do a trip there would be for them to give up a week of their Christmas Break. They agreed at the time but I was unsure of what the outcome would be when we sent out an all-campus email in early November. All 24 spots filled in a matter of a few hours and an annual tradition was born.

This trip, in many ways, reminds me of our first Karina trip in December of 2005. This November the trip filled in 12 hours. So many people wanted to go that we added a third van, a first for this December trip. Just like in December of 2005 we are serving the victims of water damage to their homes and possessions. The first house I worked on in Georgetown, S.C. had water up to the roof. The home I worked on today was a doublewide built on cement blocks so the water line was at about three feet. In any case, both houses had to have all the drywall and insulation removed from all walls and the ceilings. The studs are still wet from water in October and mold is growing everywhere. In the course of a few days of rain these people lost the interior of their homes and the possessions of a lifetime. Our students have learned that for many people in this country their primary asset is their home and when that is gone so is most of their life’s savings. Over the years of helping students perform disaster relief work I have come to realize water damage is by far the worst of all the natural forces to deal with.

As the concept of three vans full of students, rather than two, is new to our program we noticed things we hadn’t thought of, like overwhelming a fast food restaurant when we arrived with 33 people. All along our route and here in South Carolina people ask us who we are and what we are doing. I am always proud to say and to stress our students do not get credit for this work. They do it because they want to rather than because they have to.

I believe service at its finest consists of serving total strangers whose needs are unknown to us until we arrive. That is certainly the case with this trip. At a time when the holidays and Christmas have become so commercialized, it always gives me great hope for the future of humankind when I see our students giving so much of themselves to the disadvantaged people they come to serve.

Saturday, Dec. 12 – The Final Recap

Our efforts may not have seemed like much in the grand scheme of worldly disasters being tended for, but 30-plus The University of Olivet students darted toward South Carolina in hopes of helping a community, literally under water, for a week-long stay during their winter break.

There was no snow in South Carolina, and it was 60 degrees or higher each day. A sea-salt wind kissed our noses. Alligators were rumored about. Sleeping was envied. Spiders were larger. Friends multiplied. A town, disinclined to being submerged, got a breath of fresh air when the students and the All Hands volunteer team took head-on the project of resuscitating the Georgetown, S. C. community.

Ah. What a blessing.

It was a week, yes, but it was also a test: did we, as students, have what it takes to remove moldy pink insulation, tear apart sub-floors and tangle with nefarious bugs?

Not so surprisingly, we did.

Dressed in Walter White-style, yellow and white protective gear, students took the task of helping families directly and indirectly impacted from the October flooding, which took 19 lives.

Single and double-wide homes with moldy wood flooring, dwellings with roofs caved in like an agape mouth and stairs going this way and that, we grew accustomed to the homes, the leaky roofs, the calloused hands.

In closing, this trip wouldn’t be possible without the help and support from Prof. Michael Fales, director of service learning and campus ministries, and Carrie Jacob, community service coordinator. These two were gentle listeners to our late-night shenanigans of Bananagrams and Euchre. Without them, these The University of Olivet students would be lost, a black crawl space without a headlight.

Until next time, lend a helping hand.


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